On needles and haystacks

My first reaction to the needle in the haystack art event story was, why is he doing it in France?  How many Parisian art-watchers will be au fait with English idiom?

If Tate Modern showed a man stirring butter into a bowl of hot spinach, would we understand a meditation on the meaning of art and the artist’s struggle?  Parsnips would be obvious, obviously.

What would the French make of a horse pushing a cart down the Champs Elysees? Or the performance artist stuffing a lark?

What’s the French for a haystack anyway?

Botte de foin, as it happens; and in answer to my question it turns out that the French do also use them as a hiding place for aiguilles AKA lost causes.

Italians have exactly the same idea. ‘Cercare un ago in pagliaio’ they say.  All over Europe, it seems, needles are hopelessly lost in haystacks.  Ein Nadel im Heuhaufen suchen is the phrase for it, from the Baltic to Bavaria.

How much further does the search for needles extend, I wonder?  Do the Chinese go in for it, and the Lapps?  Presumably it stops at latitudes where haymaking is unknown, and needlework rare.  Sven’s work of art would not mean much to a Blue Man of the Sahara, who probably searches for his needles in sand dunes.

Did people in all these far-removed countries independently hit on the image of the needle in the haystack, and if not, who thought of it first? By what process did it travel?

Could it be that Sven – who surely comes top of the list of improbably named Italian artists – is making a linguistic joke about freedom of movement … of similes?  Or a comment on the universal language of art?

Sven tells us that the point of the search for the needle is how pointless it is, like doing the lottery (he says).

With respect, the idea of the search for the needle is not that it is pointless, merely difficult.

If you drop your car keys while out walking in the snow, or the key to the beach hut in the sea while bathing, needles and haystacks may come to mind.  At least, in English, they might.  The search for these items is not pointless. Far from it.  It’s vital.

Doing the lottery may be a long shot, misguided and a waste of money.  But it’s not pointless.

Nor is it pointless to look for the needle.  If it is not found, some poor farm animal will be in for a nasty surprise.


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